As he had done at Phillip Island during his GT debut, former V8 Supercar champion Garth Tander grabbed a late session pole in qualifying for the final round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli at Highlands Motorsport Park, to hand car-owner Tony Quinn valuable series points ahead of the final two races of the 2014 season.
Early in the 40-minute qualifying session it was championship points-leader Richard Muscat who held the advantage, the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3 pilot setting a stunning pace on his first run on ‘green’ tyres to be more than a second clear of the field, and well under the standing lap record.
In the end though Tander – driving Quinn’s VIP Petfoods Aston Martin Vantage – was too quick, his 1:31.855, a full three and a half seconds under Craig Baird’s record set 12-months prior during the maiden event at Highlands.
“It was a pretty good lap,” the Holden Racing Team star admitted. “I still had to dial myself in to get the best out of the tyre, and I probably could have found a little bit more, but it was good. Once we put fresh rubber on at the end of the session I was pretty right and I knew we’d be able to match the Mercedes.”
Muscat meanwhile was unable to improve on his impressive best, the 1:32.097 he set on lap three remaining his benchmark, traffic in the end preventing him from improving, the points leader forced to concede the pole and the two point advantage that title rival Tony Quinn inherited as a result of Tander’s pole – reducing the deficit to just 30-points.
“Traffic was a bit of an issue today, but if we maximise our performance in the two races and minimise risk, I still think we have the car to win,” Muscat admitted.
Whilst Tander’s lap time saw more than three seconds scrubbed off the existing best set 12-months ago, much of the improvement was as a result of track changes which saw a chicane all but removed on the run into the forest hairpin, and a change to the run into the entry across the bridge, a number of drivers admitting that they were able to get four wheels off the deck on the run into the ‘Carousel’..
The pace might have been impressive, and so too the 28-strong field which also saw the GT debut of both the Bentley Continental and the Chevrolet Camaro GT3s, but it came at a cost.. Practice#1 pace-setter and Trophy class title contender James Winslow one of those reflecting on a day which had the Equity-One team working well into the dark hours..
“Look it was my fault,” the four-time Formula 3 champion admitted. “I went into the Southern Loop 10kmh up on my previous best and I was a couple of inches off my ideal line and the grip just wasn’t there and around it went. I’m disappointed for the guys to have to work this hard to fix the car, but thankful the Audi R8 is such an incredibly strong car..”
“That’s part of motor-racing,” car-owner Dean Koutsoumidis admitted. “That’s his first off in seven years, and his biggest crash ever, yet within 12-hours the team had completely sorted the car and it’s ready to go for tomorrow. Unfortunately we weren’t able to record a time in qualifying so we’ll start rear-of-field, but we’re in the race and still in with a shot to take the title!”
The #71 Audi wasn’t the only casualty either, by qualifying there were two other cars missing including the high profile #1 Klark Quinn/Shane Van Gisbergen McLaren, the car stopping during opening practice with an oil pump failure.
Fortunately the engine went into ‘safe’ mode and shut down once it registered the failure, but as one of just two failures of this type in the marques history, there was no spare in the inventory, a replacement being flown out of Melbourne to prepare the car for Saturday’s two 40-minute races.
With the McLaren out, the team reinstated their ‘spare’ Chevrolet V8-powered Mosler MT900, the entire pit lane stunned as Van Gisbergen turned laps in qualifying faster than most of the current-spec FIA GT3 cars.. In the end Van Gisbergen qualified the British-built 2010-spec racer in P6, immediately ahead of V8 Supercar title rival Craig Lowndes in Inky Tulloch’s new Camaro..
“How good’s that,” Klark Quinn beamed post-session. “The Mosler is such a weapon, but it doesn’t have any of the driver aids of the McLaren, it’s all horsepower and nothing else, but it’s right up Shane’s alley. He’s such a talent and proved again he can drive just about anything. We didn’t expect the old girl to be that quick, but I guess that’s what the SVG-factor brings..!”
Like the Equity-One team, the Darrell Lea McLaren crew were also able to effect repairs overnight which will allow the reigning champion and his co-driver to line up rear-of-field for the first of the two 40-minute races promising fans a chance to see the multiple V8 Supercar race winner charge through the field.
One more car failed to make qualifying, and it too was another car with a prior history in AGT – the former Roger Lago Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 which had been purchased just recently by former Challenge class champion Jan Jinadasa.
Now aboard a car capable of running with the Trophy class front-runners, Jinadasa was getting himself up to speed during practice, when contact with Ockert Fourie’s Audi on the run down to turn three saw him backwards into the infield with serious suspension damage to the right rear..
“I don’t think he saw me and he turned into the rear of me as I went past,” a frustrated Jinadasa admitted afterwards.
On review of the incident no action was taken by officials, but like Klark Quinn and Dean Koutsoumidis, Jinadasa and co-driver Dan Gaunt were forced to sit out qualifying whilst the JJA Racing team effected repairs to the once-pristine Gallardo.
Whilst the title contenders claimed the front row for the first of the two 40-minute races, the season’s most prolific pole-sitter – the #48 Interlloy Lamborghini of Justin McMillan and Steve Richards – could only manage third, the 2013 Bathurst 1000 winner admitting that whilst he’d tried, pole was just out of reach.
“I had a couple of good goes at it, but we weren’t able to grab the pole this time,” Richards admitted. “The track was off a little too over where it was this morning, so we improved, but it didn’t show in the final times.”
Fourth was local star Jono Lester, the former Petronas Mercedes driver pushing the absolute limit in the Trass Family Ferrari 458 to top the Maranello-brigade, with former V8 Supercar champion John Bowe immediately behind.
Sixth was Van Gisbergen in the Mosler, with Lowndes a tenth slower, but beaming from his maiden run in the new 7.9-litre Camaro.. “It’s awesome,” Lowndes grinned in trademark style. “It’s like a V8 Supercar but with all the nice driver aids, so a lot more fun to drive..” Fun was an understatement, with somewhere just shy of 700bhp, the Camaro was the only car to leave it’s mark on the circuit coming out of the turn nine hairpin with tell-tale rubber marks highlighting where it had been..
“With 800Nm of torque, you really don’t need first gear, just point and shoot, he laughed.”
Eighth overall after the demise of Trophy class title rivals Koutsoumidis and Winslow was the Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes Skwirk.com.au Audi, the duo comfortably the fastest Trophy Class car, their class pole also giving them additional valuable championship points over title rivals Koutsoumidis and Winslow.
Ninth was the third Ferrari 458 Italia in the field – the Trofeo Motorsport car of Jim Manolios and Ryan Millier, young Millier holding down P5 for much of the session, the Trofeo/Pirelli team rejoicing as much for Millier’s stunning run as the fact that the former Garry Rogers Motorsport ‘junior’ mechanic had out-qualified his former GRM driver – Cameron McConville..!
Rounding out the top ten was Andrew Macpherson and Ben Porter in the IMAK Porsche GT3-R, with recent AGT recruit and Porsche stalwart Peter Fitzgerald eleventh on his Audi R8 debut – a strong recovery after what could have been a nasty off in practice with a spin coming onto the Giltrap Group Bridge.
It may have attracted plenty of attention in the pit garages, but the new Flying B Racing Bentley Continental GT3 of Peter Edwards was having a less impressive time behind the wheel, the ‘big’ British built icon suffering a number of minor teething problems, which kept Edwards from his best.
“It’s certainly a different car to drive, but we’re struggling a little with brake shudder and a fuel map that suits the fuel here, but we’ll get on top of it,” the reigning Bathurst 12-Hour champion explained prior to qualifying.
Fortunately they were able to improve the car for qualifying, Edwards gradually creeping up the order to set the 15th fastest time by the close of the session.
Second in Trophy Class at the completion of qualifying was the OLOF Motorsport Audi of Ockert Fourie and John Magro (14th), with the Fastway Porsche of Simon Ellingham taking P3 in class thanks to the efforts of ‘new’ co-driver Andre Heimgartner.
In Challenge class Brendan Cook and Matt Kingsley got the best of the battle for pole, with title rival Ben Foessel second, and recent AGT graduate Paul Van Loenhout third, the Ferrari Challenge Asia regular making his first visit to the New Zealand circuit, but more than impressed with the facility. “This is all new to me this weekend, so we’re just going to creep up on the pace, but all is good with the car,” he confirmed.
Reigning GT Sports class champion Mark Griffith may have wrapped up his second consecutive title last time out at Sandown, but the Queensland trucking magnate admitted that he wants to go out of season 2014 with a victory under his belt in New Zealand, but it was Ginetta stable-mate Tony Martin who claimed the pole, three tenths up on Griffith setting up what could be an epic battle across the final two races of the season.
With the acclaimed ‘Highlands 101’ scheduled for Sunday, both 40-minute races that constitute the final round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli will be completed on Saturday, with race one at 11:45am and race two at 3:25pm (NZDT).
The final event of the 2014 season will be updated live with ‘Race Monitor’; https://www.race-monitor.com/Results/Session/5202320 whilst session times are available via; http://www.mylaps.com/en/events/1095739
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR?
GT Championship (for 2012-2013 specification GT3 cars)
This is a tough one, but based on current championship form you’d be hard pressed to look past Richard Muscat, the Tony Quinn/Garth Tander combination and Shane Van Gisbergen alongside outgoing champion Klark Quinn. As for Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards, keep a close eye on them too, and watch out for the Audis..
GT Trophy (for GT3-spec cars 2011 and older)
There is a lot on the line at Highlands, and the two MPC stablemates are both keen for the victory. Rod Salmon has won at Highlands before and team-mate Nathan Antunes is blisteringly quick, but so too is multiple F3 champion James Winslow, and Dean Koutsoumidis has been a standout in recent rounds. Realistically – like Muscat – Salmon just has to keep his nose clean, but anything can happen, and with Dan Gaunt alongside Jan Jinadasa in the Lamborghini, and a selection of local drivers looking to impress, it’s certainly not a done deal..
GT Challenge (Challenge class cars – Porsche/Ferrari)
Current Ferrari Challenge Asia front-runner Paul Van Leonhout showed just how competitive his 458 Challenge car was during his AGT debut at Sydney, taking the round win with local star Renato Loberto alongside. Expect the Ferrari to again be the Challenge class pace-setter at Highlands, but keep an eye on Matt Kingsley too. He’ll do his best to take the title for car-owner and good mate Brendan Cook, but it will be a big mountain to climb!
GT Sports (GT4 category cars)
After wrapping up the title at Sandown in September, Mark Griffith is looking to go out on a high in what might well be his last appearance in the mighty Ginetta, but look to Tony Martin to keep him honest! Martin won his maiden AGT round at Sandown and liked the taste of victory, he’ll be keen to add another!
Rnd#6 2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, NZ (7-9 November)
Schedule: [NZDT – GMT +13]
Saturday, 8 November
9:25am – warm-up
11:45am – Race#1 (40-minutes – CPS)
3:25pm – Race#2 (40-minutes – CPS)
Sunday, 9 November
10:30am – Highlands 101 (qualifying)
1:25pm – Highlands 101 (race – 101-laps)
AUSTRALIAN GT AND HIGHLANDS MOTORSPORT PARK
The first of the two 40-minute races that constituted the final round of the 2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli was the first ever race event on the Highlands Motorsport Park circuit.
The maiden race winner was Rod Salmon in the Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3, the 2-time Bathurst 12-Hour winner inheriting the lead late in the race after early pace-setters Klark Quinn (sharing with pole-sitter Craig Baird) and Fabian Coulthard (in Tony Quinn’s Aston) succumbed to deflating tyres as a result of debris on the circuit. Salmon claimed his maiden victory in AGT with Coulthard hanging on for second, and Greg Murphy/Neil Crompton third in the Highlands McLaren MP4-12C.
Race two saw Tony Quinn claim the race win with Coulthard, from Klark Quinn/Craig Baird and Rod Salmon/Liam Talbot.
Baird’s pole time of 1:34.214 set the AGT benchmark. He also held the race lap record from race two with a best of 1:34.575, the very same time that Fabian Coulthard set during qualifying for the Highlands
Rnd#6 2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, NZ (7 November)
1. Dean Koutsoumidis/James Winslow (GTT – Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 1:33.016 [P1]
2. Richard Muscat (GT – Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3) – 1:33.509 [P2]
3. Jono Lester (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:33.597 [P2]
4. Tony Quinn/Garth Tander (GT – Aston Martin Vantage GT3) – 1:33.627 [P2]
5. Justin McMillan/David Russell (GT – Gallardo FL2 GT3) – 1:33.720 [P1]
6. John Bowe (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:33.765 [P2]
7. Klark Quinn/Shane Van Gisbergen (GT – McLaren MP4-12C) – 1:33.891 [P1]
8. Steve McLaughlan/Warren Luff (GT – Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) – 1:34.139 [P2]
9. Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes (GTT – Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 1:34.295 [P1]
10. Inky Tulloch/Craig Lowndes (GT – Chevrolet Camaro GT3) – 1:34.529 [P2]
11. Andrew MacPherson/Ben Porter (GT – Porsche 997 GT3-R) – 1:35.946 [P2]
12. Jan Jinadasa/Daniel Gaunt (GTT – Lamborghini Gallardo LP560) – 1:36.012 [P1]
13. Peter Fitzgerald/Michael Almond (GT – Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) – 1:34.295 [P1]
14. Ross Lilley/Paul Kelly (GT – Gallardo FL2 GT3) – 1:36.172 [P2]
15. Ockert Fourie/John Magro (GTT – Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 1:36.453 [P2]
16. Jim Manolios/Ryan Millier (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:36.704 [P1]
17. Simon Ellingham/Andre Heimgartner (GTT – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:38.075 [P1]
18. Adrian Deitz/Cameron McConville (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:38.129 [P2]
19. Michael Hovey/Matt Campbell (GTT – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:38.493 [P1]
20. Indiran/Duvashen Padayachee (GTC – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:39.750 [P2]
21. Peter Edwards (GT – Bentley Continental GT3) – 1:38.952 [P2]
22. Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley (GTC – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:39.990 [P2]
23. Ben Foessel/George Foessel (GTC – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:41.143 [P2]
24. Paul Van Loenhout (GTC – Ferrari 458 Challenge) – 1:42.613 [P2]
25. Keith Kassulke/Les Walmsley (GTT – Ascari KZR-1) – 1:43.188 [P2]
26. Sam Fillmore/Danny Stutterd (GTT – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:45.578 [P2]
27. Tony Martin/Grant Bromley (GTS – Ginetta G50 GT4) – 1:45.679 [P2]
28. Mark Griffith (GTS – Ginetta G50 GT4) – 1:47.167 [P1]
Qualifying (40-minutes, 7 November)
1. Tony Quinn/Garth Tander (GT – Aston Martin Vantage GT3) – 1:31.855
2. Richard Muscat (GT – Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3) – 1:32.097
3. Justin McMillan/Steve Richards (GT – Gallardo FL2 GT3) – 1:32.954
4. Jono Lester (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:33.365
5. John Bowe (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:33.832
6. Klark Quinn/Shane Van Gisbergen (GT – Mosler MT900 GT3) – 1:34.043
7. Inky Tulloch/Craig Lowndes (GT – Chevrolet Camaro GT3) – 1:34.131
8. Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes (GTT – Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 1:34.741
9. Jim Manolios/Ryan Millier (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:35.521
10. Andrew Macpherson/Ben Porter (GT – Porsche 997 GT3-R) – 1:35.561
11. Peter Fitzgerald/Michael Almond (GT – Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) – 1:35.985
12. Adrian Deitz/Cameron McConville (GT – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:36.084
13. Ross Lilley/Paul Kelly (GT – Gallardo FL2 GT3) – 1:36.613
14. Ockert Fourie/John Magro (GTT – Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 1:36.718
15. Peter Edwards (GT – Bentley Continental GT3) – 1:36.718
16. Simon Ellingham/Andre Heimgartner (GTT – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:37.081
17. Michael Hovey/Matt Campbell (GTT – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:37.611
18. Steve McLaughlan/Warren Luff (GT – Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) – 1:37.957
19. Indiran/Duvashen Padayachee (GTC – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:39.239
20. Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley (GTC – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:39.600
21. Keith Kassulke/Les Walmsley (GTT – Ascari KZR-1) – 1:40.263
22. Ben Foessel/George Foessel (GTC – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:41.350
23. Paul Van Loenhout (GTC – Ferrari 458 Challenge) – 1:41.937
24. Tony Martin/Grant Bromley (GTS – Ginetta G50 GT4) – 1:46.020
25. Mark Griffith (GTS – Ginetta G50 GT4) – 1:46.391
26. Sam Fillmore/Danny Stutterd (GTT – Porsche GT3 Cup) – 1:47.555
DNQ. Dean Koutsoumidis/James Winslow (GTT – Audi R8 LMS GT3)
DNQ. Jan Jinadasa/Daniel Gaunt (GTT – Lamborghini Gallardo LP560)
The 2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli is proudly supported by Pirelli, AHG Ltd, Darrell Lea, Mentum Design and Z Motorsport Memorabilia.
2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli – calendar
Rnd#1, 28-30 March – Sandown, Melbourne, Victoria*
Rnd#2, 23-25 May – Phillip Island, Victoria*
Rnd#3, 4-6 July – Townsville, Queensland**
Rnd#4, 22-24 August – Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW**
Rnd#5, 12-14 September – Sandown, Melbourne, Victoria**
Rnd#6, 7-9 November – Highland Motorsport Park, NZ
2015 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Rnd#1 – 26 February-1 March, Clipsal 500, Adelaide, SA**
Rnd#2 – 22-24 May, Phillip Island, Victoria*
Rnd#3 – 10-12 July, Townsville, Queensland**
Rnd#4 – 21-23 August, Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW**
Rnd#5 – 11-13 September, Sandown 500, Melbourne, Victoria**
Rnd#6 – 6-8 November, Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, NZ (TBC)
(* with the Shannons Nationals, ** with V8 Supercars)
Source. Motorsport Media